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The WVS and Queen Mary's Carpet

In the years after World War II Britain struggled to recover economically. In stark contrast, the USA was becoming a much richer nation than before. Sterling was no longer a leading currency and national banks wanted US Dollars, not Sterling. Feeling that every citizen should try and “do their bit” for the economy, in November 1949 Queen Mary decided to donate her needlework to the nation, so that it could be sold for dollars. A committee responsible for the “disposal” of the Carpet was formed and chaired by Lady Reading as Head of the WVS.

Before its journey to America the Carpet went on public display at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) on February 8th 1950. From the start queues were averaging 3000 per day who were stewarded by members of the WVS. By the end of the exhibition which finished on March 12th 1950, it had been seen by over 100,000 visitors including Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother) and Princess Margaret.

Lady Reading’s PA Miss Patricia Hardie was then appointed to care for the carpet on its journey. The only qualification for the job was that Patricia had worked with the American Red Cross during World War II.

As the V&A exhibition closed, the Carpet was carefully folded and placed in its specially made oak & steel casket. Accompanied by Patricia Hardie on the RMS Queen Mary it was shipped to New York. The plan was to take the Carpet on an 80 day, 14,000 mile tour of cities across the USA and Canada, arranged by the son of Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Antrim, Colonel Angus McDonnell, who would also escort the Carpet assisted by Miss Hardie.

The Carpet, Colonel McDonnell and Miss Hardie arrived in New York on March 23rd 1950. The first exhibition was in New York for 5 days before embarking on a tour of 23 cities in the USA and Canada. Every venue had made special arrangements to display the Carpet. Some even removed priceless artefacts to make room. 

Miss Hardie noted “In every case the Carpet was in place within half an hour of our arrival. Sometimes it was hung with a curtain background, sometimes against a wooden frame or plinth and sometimes laid flat on a specially built dais.

Young GI brides helped us in many cities, always willing and enthusiastic, arranging their household duties so that they might be free to work a shift at the sales desks selling the literature from which the expenses of the tour would be paid.”


The Carpet was seen by over 400,000 across North America, including Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt former 1st Lady and wife of the former US President Franklin D Roosevelt. Mrs Roosevelt praised Queen Mary for her sacrifice and devotion in sending her needlework to the USA to generate dollar funds for her country. Miss Hardie commented that it was the most exciting three months of her life.

Patricia also commented that “so many I met were needlewomen themselves and everyone, without exception, wanted to feel the texture of the carpet.”

Sadly, present day visitors to the National Gallery of Canada are rarely able to view the Carpet. Due to the light sensitive nature of the wool dyes and degradation of the fabric, the Carpet is not on permanent display.

If you’re interested in more information on Queen Mary’s Carpet you can contact our enquiry service or search the WVS Bulletin/WRVS Magazine. 

Posted by Ian Myhill, Volunteer at 09:00 Monday, 24 April 2017.

Labels: Carpet, Canada, America, Victoria and Albert Museum, WVS, Queen Mary

Eggs, hot cross buns, daffodils and the WVS/WRVS

We hope you enjoy these extracts from the WVS Bulletin and WRVS Magazine which include WVS activities, easter traditions and recipes.

Firstly I would like to make a bid for the earliest mention of Christmas in 2017 with this Bulletin from January 1946.

                                              

The WVS worked closely with refugees from Holland during the war and established a sister organisation the Dutch UVV and  worked with them in April 1948.

IT IS ABOUT two years since the arrival of the first of the long line of Mobile Canteens which W.V.S. so generously gave to its sister organisation, the Dutch U.V.V., after the liberation of Holland. We here in Arnhem were so fortunate as to get the first two. The first arrived a few days before Christmas from Newcastle-on-Tyne, and was immediately put to work on distribution to the aged poor of loaves of sultana bread, a Yuletide speciality in Holland. …

During the bulb season the mobile canteens were used to distribute Easter eggs and daffodils to the aged, and as the bulb growers in the West had given us such tremendous quantities of flowers, we saved a canteen load of them for the Airborne Cemetery.

Over ten years later in April 1959 WVS volunteers were still hard at work.

NORWICH. This Easter we had a pleasant surprise. The staff in our building collected fresh eggs to be distributed to all the old people on the Meals-on-Wheels round.

Also published were a series of Easter Traditions in an article entitled The Egg The Hare and The Hot Cross Bun. You can read the article in full in the Bulletin from April 1963 but here is a short extract.

[T]he hot cross bun. I always assumed that the cross on the bun was a purely Christian symbol, but now I learn that it probably dates back long before that. Little crosses used to be put on cakes made for the worship of the goddess Diana, and it seems possible that the wheaten cakes known to have been eaten at pagan Spring festivals bore the same mark. Our hot cross buns have probably got a much longer history than we imagine.

Incidentally, there is one delightful individual custom associated with hot cross buns which takes place in an inn in London. In the early nineteenth century the licensee put aside one hot cross bun every Good Friday for her son who was away at sea. But one year he did not return. His mother didn't give up hope, but continued each year to replace the old bun with a new one, keeping the old ones in a basket. When new tenants took over the inn they continued to do this, and now there is a clause in the lease of the inn to enforce it.

Finally as we haven't posted any for a while a recipe for Easter Biscuits from April 1972:

12 oz. Plain flour
pinch of salt
6 oz. Butter or margarine
4 oz. Caster sugar
1 Egg
3 oz. Currants
Pinch of saffron, steeped for a few hours in 1 tablespoon milk,
Egg white and caster sugar for finish.

MethodCream the fat and sugar Beat in the eggAdd the currants and saffron mixtureFold in the flour, sifted with the salt, using a metal spoon The dough should be softer than for pastry, but firm enough to roll Kneed lightly and roll out on a floured board to 1/8 inch in thickness Cut in rounds, using a fluted cutterPut on a baking sheet and bake for approx. 20 minutes at 400°f-Mark 6 After 10 minutes in the oven, remove the biscuits, brush with egg white and dredge with caster sugarReturn to the oven for remainder of baking time Cool on a cooling tray Store in an airtight tin.

All our Bulletins and Magazines written between 1939 and 1974 (over 419 Issues) are available to download on our online catalogue. Why not search Easter in the Bulletin Text field for more extracts like these.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 17 April 2017.

Labels: Easter, WRVS, eggs, daffodils, Dutch, WVS

Hotlocks, Food Flying Squads and Soya Boilers - the equipment of Royal Voluntary Service

Welcome back to the Heritage Bulletin Vlog, in the past we’ve posted a number of blogs focusing on food from services like Meals on Wheels to recipes from the Bulletin but we never really talk about the equipment which made the volunteers work possible.


                                      

The full and original script is avaliable in this PDF Hotlocks, Food Flying Squads and Soya Boilers.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 10 April 2017.

Labels: WVS, WRVS, Vlog, Hotlocks, Soya Boilers, Flying Food Squad

A study in ink

Our regular readers may remember that last year we raised £27,724 on Kickstarter to digitise 28,000 documents telling the story of a million war time women. The work began in September and since then we have uncovered interesting, unusual and sometimes very short stories which are regularly posted on Twitter and Facebook. As well as these stories we have also discovered a number of different ink colours, styles of handwriting and spills. This sometimes makes the documents difficult to read but there are skills that can be used to help us interpret and identify them.

Palaeography is the study of ancient and historical handwriting, how it was formed and changed overtime rather than the contents or the meanings of the words themselves. It is also useful alongside the study of diplomatica for dating documents; luckily most of the Narrative Reports are stamped or dated. There are several different types of handwriting studied on Archive courses but modern historians and our team would find the study of secretary and italic more useful than anglicana or gothic. However it could be argued this does not really apply at the time covered in the digitised reports especially those produced on a typewriter. Furthermore standardised handwriting appears to be disappearing at this point (1938-1942); there are many different variations within the collection which you can see in the images throughout this blog. Although in some writing you can still see the use some identifiers of italic. The Centre Organisers were usually middle aged women who were probably taught italic in school. We use these skills to try to read and transcribe documets like the one below or Emma Yellowley's Diary.

                                                                                           

Can you decipher this text? I will provide an answer at the end of next weeks blog. Though perhaps you are more interested in the different colours used in the Narrative Reports.              

We’ve probably all seen the beautifully illuminated documents of the medieval era and may not associate this with modern records; however another thought-provoking study of these documents is the different ways centre organisers or their secretaries chose to write or illustrate these documents. This includes small drawings, poetry or the use of different coloured inks. So far our archives assistant has encountered black and blue as you would expect but also purple and green. This doesn’t only apply to the handwritten documents but those typed on a typewriter. This wouldn’t help us to date or read the documents as coloured inks and dyes have been around for 1000s of years even though they were more expensive and less readily available before the twentieth century. On the other hand the typewriter’s (first invented in 1557) design was standardised by 1910. Though a typed document is easier to read and doesn’t require palaeography skills it can still be used to tell us where a document originated as every typewriter is individual. In our collection of reports there are some centres which continually use a typewriter that punches holes when the o or e key is used. A keen eye may also be required to read slightly blurred type or those which are fading which is why our Kickstarter project is extremely important.

I hope that I have given you some food for thought this week while also providing a challenge. The History of a million wartime women hasn’t only brought a new insight into the role of women on the Homefront but some different perspectives on the look and feel of the documents themselves. It also highlights how significant handwriting and the ability to read it is for archivists offering access to their collections and unlocking them for future generations. Finally, for those of you who know me yes I have been reading Sherlock Holmes novels again and that’s where the inspiration for the title came from.  

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 03 April 2017.

Labels: Ink, , Palaeography, , Narrative Report, , Kickstarter, , WVS, , war